She's On Board | Torrance Memorial

Published on August 03, 2021

She's On Board

girl with skateboard

Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner | Photographed by Ian Logan

In the South Bay of the 1970s, teens embraced the art of skateboarding at such places as Hermosa Beach Pier. Later, they tackled vert (vertical) skateboarding in empty swimming pools and eventually skate parks. As these skateboarders careened down the slopes, flipping and twisting in midair, one skater stood apart: Cindy Whitehead, one of the only girls.

That didn’t bother Whitehead, who wore headphones to tune out chauvinistic remarks by her male peers. What bothered her was the lack of gear, brand sponsorships and contests targeting females. At 16 years old she turned pro, touring the country, earning top ranks and becoming the first female to appear in a skateboarding magazine centerfold and two-page spread.

Skateboarding has gone in and out of popularity since that time. Meanwhile, Whitehead became a wardrobe stylist in film and television production. With recent resurgences of skateboarding, more girls began to embrace the sport than in Whitehead’s day. Yet the same gender discrepancies remained.

“There has been a huge financial disparity for guys and girls, even as they have the same expenses,” she says. “Women’s prize money was vastly less. They weren’t paid for travel expenses, and they had more difficulty finding sponsors.”

In 2013 Whitehead decided to attack the problem by starting Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word (GN4LW), a movement and brand aimed at increasing visibility and support for female skateboarding. Collaborating with skateboard manufacturer Dwindle, she designed a skateboard for the female market. She uses the profits to support female skateboarders, events and projects.

“Helping girls today get where they want to go is what I’m most excited about,” says Whitehead, who now specializes in styling professional and Olympic athletes appearing in advertisements. “This is a real passion project.”

The GN4LW website “is the only daily website for women, girls and LGBTQIA skateboarders,” says Whitehead. She notes the sport has grown considerably for women over the past five years.

Whitehead collaborated with S1 Helmets to produce a skate helmet and created a line of Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word apparel. She supplies a team of 10 skaters and four ambassadors with GN4LW merchandise, and they in turn promote the brand and one another. She also refers her team members and other female skaters to projects such as television and film appearances.

When Whitehead spoke to PULSE in May, two of her team members—15-year-old Minna Stess and 22-year-old Arianna Carmona—had just qualified for semifinals in the Olympic trials for skateboarding. Although the sport is not a competitive Olympic sport, it is an exhibition sport in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Whitehead was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in 2016 and was asked to contribute her past history to the sports collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. More of her memorabilia is on display at the Hermosa Beach Museum.

Still skating in her 50s, she asserts the sport is for all ages. “You see everyone from 5-year-olds to grandmothers. Everyone’s equal in a skate park.”